Before Larry Seiler has sex, he often takes a hot shower. The heat relaxes his muscles, which are tight from cerebral palsy. In doggy-style, one of his favorite positions, he props his hands behind his knees to be sure they don’t buckle. If he hadn’t figured that trick out, he’d be stuck in missionary, a position he doesn’t find quite as satisfying. A wall, chair, or something steady must be handy just in case his thrusting throws him off-kilter. He has to be understanding of his partners, who, with few exceptions in his life, have also been a mixture of physically and learning disabled. Larry can navigate a wheelchair as well as negotiate legs that don’t work well. He has experienced women with tremors who grab his penis too hard. But he doesn’t get mad. He has been with women who’ve had poor muscle control, suffering from multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. As a result of this, spontaneous muscle contractions during sex have, on various occasions, caused Larry’s penis to get stuck inside both the front and rear orifices. He’s patient and calms them, waiting for their minds to take control back from their bodies. Larry has to take care to wear a condom; not only is he protecting himself from disease, but he’s also protecting the women he’s with—for many of whom carrying a child would be dangerous —from an early death.
Larry wants to find love, but as a 33-year-old with learning disabilities, he’s finding many obstacles before him. He has one foot in the disabled world and one foot in the so-called normal world—and doing the splits between both has left him stretched and alone. He was born with cerebral palsy (CP), a condition caused by damage to the brain, which results in poor muscle control and coordination. Although CP can occur independent of learning disabilities, in Larry’s case it did not. He’s what people who work in the land of developmental disabilities would call high-functioning. He’s functional enough to get a real job, but disabled enough to need help in several areas such as budgeting, socializing, and judging situations.
He walks the streets stiffly. His feet, like a duck’s, point inward with each step. His shoulders hunch up toward his hairy lobes, and pockmarks and pimples stretch from the tip of his short brown hair all along his jawline. If he looks slightly down—past his rounded belly, past the hand lying robotically rigid by his side—to the ground, his chin doubles. He checks out the girls that pass, one hazel eye following a tad faster than the other. He’s attracted to long hair and legs, big breasts, intelligence (though she doesn’t have to have a college degree) and someone who dresses well and can teach him how to do the same. (He especially likes a woman in a business suit, something that rarely happens with the women he dates.) The women, upon first glance, don’t even give him a second thought. They feel sorry for him, he thinks, and don’t realize he has a heart. He could make them just as happy as any other man—he likes to please a woman in bed (or on a kitchen counter) and have conversation over a great dinner, and has internalized all the family values that a good Jewish boy should. If they said yes and just got to know him, say, over a cup of coffee at Applebee’s or at a Friday night movie (he’d even pay), they’d have no trouble saying yes, yes, yes for the rest of their lives. And that yes would give the public proof that Larry belongs.
Larry has dated plenty of women; he estimates close to 50 in all. Each reminds him of a particular food—Larry’s grocery list of girls—and that’s how he remembers them. There was Welch’s Grape Juice; she was sweet at the beginning, but turned tart like the last bit of juice left in the bottle. There was Strawberry Ice Cream; she smelled good and tasted good “down there.” There was Pickled Pigs Feet; she had a lot of flavor, but depending on the day, she could be nasty. He named another Spotted Dick, an English bread pudding with currants, because the girl’s butt looked like it had big dried-fruit-like craters. Because of confidentiality concerns, in this article, each of Larry’s relationships will be referred to by the food he feels they represented.
At eight years old, Larry had his first crush. It was on his babysitter, Darlene. She’d strut around Larry’s Co-op City apartment, doing nothing special except looking cute with her long hair and big breasts. He started feeling a tingle in his groin, and from there, he dabbled in masturbation. At nine, Larry discovered his first porn tapes. They belonged to his father. Larry liked the tapes, and before long, had watched the whole collection. He attended P.S. 178 in the Bronx. That’s where, at age 10, he had his first sexual experience. He called her Semi-Sweet Chocolate because she was black; they were in special ed together. She also had CP. They snuck out of recess and into the stairwell. There, they explored each other’s lower regions. Larry’s face was mid-burrow into her pants when the principal caught them. Larry’s parents were called in, and when he got home, his father—who suffered from alcoholism and sometimes went into rages—beat him with a belt. Larry says that the comfort of having her close outweighed the pain of the welts.
Each summer, Larry went to Summit Camp, a camp for the disabled in Pennsylvania. Like most co-ed summer camps, Summit Camp taught him more than just lanyards and sing-along songs. It was where he had sex for the first time, losing his virginity at 13. He calls her Peanut Butter because she was sweet at first and stuck with him, but later, when she left, she also left a bad taste in his mouth. She had spina bifida, and as a result, suffered from learning disabilities and weakness in her lower limbs. Larry and Peanut Butter snuck out to the lakefront and entered the snack shop alone. Larry found balance up against a Coke machine; she scooted beneath him. Now whenever Larry sees the letters C-O-K-E, he remembers her fondly, his cheeks turning as red as the brand name’s background.
At 15, Larry started to get creative. One of his special-ed teachers at Columbus High told her class to keep a journal for two weeks. Larry had already learned not to divulge any tales of heavy petting to boys, because schoolyard gossip always seemed to result in a swift deck to the face. Larry attests that messing with a girl’s reputation, no matter if she has disabilities, brings a wrath no softer. So he set to writing his sexual exploits to his teacher. His hope was Danielle Steel; the result was full-on porn.
He wrote about his “fuck friend,” Matzo Ball Soup (because she was Jewish, clumpy, and a tad salty). He described his favorite positions with lewd verbs like “fuck” and “screw” and how he experimented with heated Hershey’s chocolate syrup—messy, but yummy. His teacher talked with him later, asking him if everything was OK at home, and then assigned a fresh task: find synonyms for his favorite four-letter word.
That same year, Larry experienced what he calls his first real relationship. It was with a girl who had Down syndrome. He affectionately calls her Adobo, a Mexican marinade infused with chili peppers. He says her Irish background made her sweet, but she had a ruthless and delightful twinge of spiciness in every comment. Adobo waddled. Her typical Down syndrome features—flat face, smaller head, upward slanting eyes—gained judgment before her mouth ever opened. When Larry prowled the schoolyard alone, “gimp” replaced his given name. For Adobo, “Chinese girl” became her nickname; besides her slit-like eyes, her feet—at size 3—were so tiny that peers teased that they must have been bound. When together holding hands in the schoolyard, Larry and Adobo were simple targets; their mainstream peers called them retarded.
The bond was more than physical; they cared about one another too. Larry never had sex with Adobo, but they caressed and kissed a lot. Through her smile, he saw her spirit, and through her laugh, he saw her to be the most beautiful girl he’d dated. She did things she didn’t have to. She brought him snacks. She called him every day just to ask if he was OK. She hugged him in front of people, not worried about what they would say. The relationship lasted until Larry’s parents condemned it; they told Larry he couldn’t date anyone whose disability was worse than his own. They wanted Larry to be accepted into the mainstream and to live the so-called normal life they had known. Larry’s quest for normalcy became full-blown.
When he was 16, Larry hooked up with a non-disabled girl for the first time. The experience was humiliating. He calls her Raw Eggplant because he likes eggplant cooked, piping hot. Larry met the girl through a mutual friend; they went straight to bed. She caught sight of his penis and asked if it was small because of his disability. He was embarrassed and angry. They didn’t have sex and never saw each other again. Looking back, Larry thinks she’s the one who should have been in special ed—didn’t she know, it’s not the size, but what you do with it that’s important?
Then there was the cheerleader. Larry intended to be a linebacker for his high school football team; he had the right build—thick with wide shoulders—but the coordination of a two-day-old deer. During tryouts, he rushed the others with all his strength, but continuously tripped, falling hard on the field. He became the team manager, a glorified title for what he really did—fetch equipment and water for his peers. One of the cheerleaders, Burned Rice Pudding (because she would’ve been sweet if she hadn’t cooked so long and got charred along the edges, making her bitter at the end), screwed him every other week for about six months. It was out of pity, he thinks, but he went along with it. Who would say no to a girl in a short pleated skirt? But as soon as word spread to the team, Pudding started calling him all sorts of names, distancing herself from him. Larry told on her and they never talked again—no more pleated skirts in the sack for him.
Larry’s disability may keep him from climbing Mount Everest, but the bedroom was a place where he could have his adventures. He might be slow to pick up certain topics, and had to record lectures at Lehman College to pass classes, but that doesn’t mean that his sexual IQ isn’t equal to genius. He tried to fulfill himself by using different toys and positions. He tried butt beads and some s/m moves like ones using handcuffs. In a movie, he once saw a sexy scene where the leading man swept all the dishes off the kitchen table and left them shattered on the floor as he laid his lover down. Larry tried that too. He found the one position he couldn’t accomplish was sixty-nine—his legs were just too weak—but made up for it by discovering the Lazy Chair. He could plop a girl on top of him and just go to town. He dated a girl with epilepsy once; she was so large he couldn’t easily find the hole. He improvised by filling up the bathtub; the wetness, coupled with less strain from gravity, allowed him to glide right in. He attended a ménage à trois, experimenting with some friends who had disabilities. There he met Chicken Legs (not to be confused with Drum Sticks, who is another girl on the list) and discovered that twiggy extremities weren’t a turn-on. A friend with schizophrenia once set him up with a transsexual girl (Hebrew Sausage, self-explanatory). Larry was open to trying everything, but when he saw the extra package in between her legs, he confirmed homosexuality wasn’t for him. To him, Hebrew Sausage had a disability; she didn’t know who she was. Everyone has a disability to Larry, even if it isn’t as easy to see as a stiff gait or low IQ score, but no matter the disability, the jizz all comes out the same.
Larry enjoyed sex, but still found the emotional bond lacking. While Larry started studying mass communications at Lehman, he also started hosting a show called Special People Special Issues (SPSI) on BronxNet, a public access TV station located on Lehman’s campus. Though the show focused on disabled issues, he saw it as his ticket to a career, to the real world, to fill Larry King’s chair. To the girls Larry dates, who often depend on Social Security checks, a steady job like his looks appealing. Larry felt used; all the girls he dated wanted him for what he could give them and not for who he was. Like Breakstone Sour Cream, who was sour, always thinking of herself—talking about her aches and pains and never asking how his day was. He spent one hundred bucks of his rent money on her in one night—steaks at Applebee’s, a movie, and a couple Alice Cooper albums at F.Y.E. before sending her home on the bus. Who’s going to take care of him? He
can’t be with a woman who can’t take care of herself, who’s needy, who’s bumping into stuff, who just wants to have sex and can’t talk about anything important. He’s got enough of his own issues to worry about. Wouldn’t it be great to be taken care of, to have someone cook a dinner for him, to give him a little cash to spend? He’s giving so much, but getting nothing back in return. The thoughts reel in his head, making him frustrated. There’s so much to say and no one to listen, so he starts talking out loud on the streets and leaving extra-long messages on voice-mail systems. He’s not crazy; he knows what he’s doing. The love he can give is pure. Even though the “disabled” label follows him around, the word doesn’t mean his merchandise is a bad brand.
Depressed and frustrated, Larry would find momentary bliss while watching hardcore porn or going to strip clubs. The practice began in his early twenties, but became exacerbated in his mid-twenties to early thirties. He amassed a collection of 800 videos and DVDs. His taste was wide and his purchases often experimental; once he bought a film focusing on women with their long-schlonged horses. He estimates his porn library, plus all the stops at peep shows and strip joints, cost him more than $9,000. When he was 21, his father died of a heart attack. In such moments of stress, Larry would try to lose himself in sex. The very next day, he stole his mother’s credit card, called a phone-sex line, and talked hot and heavy with a woman for a three-hour session, forgetting his pain and fears. The call came to $1,200 on his mourning mother’s monthly bill. There was some yelling, but that didn’t stop him. Larry continued making phone calls to 1-800 numbers until he realized that some were recordings; no matter how crass and sexy a lady could be, he’d only pay to speak to somebody who knew a breathing soul was on the other line. He wasn’t about to be fooled by a machine.
In his mid-twenties, Larry’s mother remarried and became sick, suffering from nervous breakdowns. Larry moved out. He found an affordable place on City Island, but was soon kicked out when the pipes broke. He’d been throwing pork grease down the sink for months; the place flooded with fecal matter. He moved to a respite home; it’s government subsidized for a maximum stay of two months. Larry stayed at one for four years and another for two years because he couldn’t get his finances straight. He started going to strip clubs. Boys he knew from his social group for the disabled showed him where the good ones were. He went to Empire Erotica to expand his porn collection and for a treat: the peep shows, blowing one to three hundred dollars during each downtown jaunt. He started going to Paradise Club on 33rd Street. In those dark rooms, the dancers wanted him. He was in the so-called normal world and all he needed was a dollar bill to be accepted. The girls didn’t believe in rejection. They didn’t grimace or curl their upper lips at him or at the Hugo Boss cologne, so thick you’d think he’d submerged himself in the bottle. Larry could forget, in a cum-soaked daze, why it was that life was so unfair. One day he remembers being so pissed off and alone that he cashed his Social Security check, close to $850, paid a couple bills and then took the remaining $500 to Flashdancers, a gentlemen’s club in Manhattan. A lap dance, a couple drinks, and two hand jobs later, Larry was penniless and alone—emptier than he had been on the 4 train, on the way there, just a few hours before.
Part of Larry’s disability is trusting people because he wants to be near them, not because they’re worthy. One of the respite staff members took Larry out for pizza. He called her Collard Greens because she was a Southern woman with thick thighs and ample breasts. She took Larry to her house and had sex. When they were finished, Collard Greens and her son asked Larry for $80. They said they were poor and needed it for things like groceries. Larry complied; he gave the $80 and continued coming once a week for the next three months, doling out the money each time they had intercourse. It wasn’t prostitution; she wasn’t a prostitute. She needed the money and Larry needed the closeness. Eventually the head staff member of the respite found out and fired Collard Greens. Larry ceased getting Southern comfort.
Larry’s Bronx respite home had other disabled young adults living there. When he was 26, Larry remembers waking up to find one of his housemates in his bed. He called her Sazon, a spicy blend of seasonings, because despite her severe developmental disability, she was hot in the pants. She snuck up to his room after the staff went to sleep. Her mind didn’t work well, but her body did. Larry functioned on a much higher level, but the sex was good and he didn’t want to be the one responsible to cut it out. Plus, the sex every day was an enjoyable diet; he started losing weight.
Sazon asked him not to wear a condom. Larry always used condoms, remembering the lessons in his sex-ed class. Whenever he thought he was going to get lucky, he’d carry the condoms in a ziplock bag in his pocket; carrying them in his wallet made them yucky. Larry knew what she wanted: She wanted to have a baby, someone who would love her and fill the empty void inside. He knew it, because he felt it too. Despite the times they tried, she never got pregnant. After two and a half years, the staff found out. The state was contacted, and Larry moved out. He was faulted for making a bad decision. His higher IQ level made him responsible; he should have known not to have sex with someone with as little judgment as Sazon, let alone try to get her pregnant. The state just doesn’t know where to put someone like Larry—not quite fitting into the disabled world where he’s called responsible, or into the so-called normal world that keeps him at bay as well, often calling him irresponsible. Larry went on his way, assuming Sazon had been infertile, because he’d been tested; his sperm were virile, just waiting for the right moment.
Larry wants to leave a legacy. He’d like to have three boys: Lawrence Seiler Jr. (making an exception to the Jewish law that one is not supposed to name a child after oneself), Sammy Seiler (for Sammy Davis Jr.), and Joseph Seiler (for his deceased grandfather). His children will all take after him; they will all be advocates for the disabled. If they are disabled, that’s OK; Larry knows where he can get all the services they will need. When Larry dies, his children will arrange a magnificent funeral. Larry will lie in repose like many great and respected men before him—like Gerald Ford, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. There will be an hour of silence, and clips from his early life and his time anchoring for CBS will be playing on a huge screen behind him. On his tombstone, there will be etched, “creator and host of Special People Special Issues.” His wife, who will be an exotic mixture of the model Iman and the figure skater Michelle Kwan, will also be there. She’ll be in mourning, but so proud that Lawrence Joseph Seiler was her husband. She’ll look back and remember their beautiful wedding day: Larry wore a white tux with long tails. Tons and tons of people were there. Larry pulled all the stops. It was at the New York Botanical Garden, a big venue and one hard to book, so people could tell the event was important.
Special People Special Issues broadcast live from their ceremony. Everyone who tuned in could see that disabled people were normal; they got married, looked good in tuxes, and could attract smart and beautiful women. When Larry pulled the white veil over his bride’s head, the way she looked at him was clear: She wanted him for him, for every fault that he had.
When Larry turned 31, he got rid of all his porn and vowed never to waste his money on that industry again. With the help of Luis Torres, an advocate who helps Larry budget his money and who has provided him the support of a second family, Larry said goodbye to bestiality and lonely lap dances—well, almost: He kept one tape, a soft-porn flick from Playboy. It features women doing nasty tricks in fast-food uniforms.
Larry never feels more normal than when he goes out with Luis. While out on the town, whether it’s out to a movie or just for a corner-side burger, they scout out the women who pass and comment on their beauty. But there’s always a distinction between Luis and Larry; it comes out when they interact with the so-called normal world, of which Luis is 100 percent part. Larry went with Luis to a Christmas party. All the women there were giving Luis hugs and kisses on the cheek. They were beautiful and dressed in tight holiday dresses; Larry wanted the hugs and kisses too. Even though Larry asked, the women walked away without indulging. He felt a flash of resentment. So what if they were Luis’s friends? Larry is his friend too; shouldn’t the benefits roll over?
Then there was a woman Larry met through Luis—one of his neighbors. Larry calls her Fatback, because she’s black and has a generous layer of skin. He gave her a card with his number on it and asked her out to coffee. She always hugged him when she said hello, giving him hope that a relationship could grow, but she never even called him. That hugging stuff, it’s so superficial. She didn’t even look past the outer facade to see the sexy man inside. People just don’t get him. The rejection couldn’t be for any other reason than the obvious one: because he’s disabled.
Larry’s last date was in November 2006; he named the woman Gravy With Lumps. The relationship was bumpy. He’d dated Gravy in the past; they met in a social group he attended for adults with learning disabilities. She had a developmental disability. She has two kids already; one also suffers from her disability. Larry and Gravy had a hiatus, and then last October, she showed up at his door uninvited. When they reunited, Larry had sex with her. Feeling unfulfilled, Larry asked for more—he wanted to go out to dinner, to have a conversation—but she was already out the door. She came over again and asked him to buy her diapers and baby food. He gave her a few bucks; he couldn’t say no to a hungry child or to someone who sought his company, even if it was just for money. Now she stops by every once in a while, asking for stuff.
Larry’s 33 years old and his situation hasn’t changed. He doesn’t want the same old thing anymore. He wants love. No, he doesn’t want love; he needs love. Love is a need; it’s not a want. The frustration is starting to seep in again and he needs a distraction. If he had an extra fifty right now, he’d break it into ones. He’d go to a place where no one’s paying attention, stick dollar bills into some anonymous woman’s panties, and have a cold beer to forget what he’s feeling. That will heal nothing, he knows, but he’s alone, trying to forget his problems, to forget the way the world sees him, to forget that all those promises and dreams have a chance of not happening. He pleases himself now in an unemotional suspension, waiting for the right woman to give him the self-esteem he lost upon the first years of primary-school rejection. All the girls in his past were a lot of flavor with no satisfaction; now he’s empty, empty with used tissues before him, he’s the last product on his grocery list, he’s Knox Gelatine, the flavorless version.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 6, 2007